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Web-Intranet-Sharepoint project

The aim of the project is to review and improve the way we share information and documents at St Mary’s and how we work collaboratively, including:

  • A website which can satisfy the needs of all future prospective students, students and staff with access to all the right rich content to serve students including: 
    • Devolved publishing, but with clear editorial leadership and direction. 
    • Users will be able to access non-sensitive / non-personal information without needing a St Mary’s login. 
    • Users will be able to access to search for information via external search engines (e.g. Google, Alexa). 
  • Collaborative tools which are fully functional/working at optimal levels to provide what an organisation should have in 2020 (e.g. document repository, document collaboration, workflows, task lists / management, department calendars for events & leave)  
  • To enable the above to be accessible anywhere and from any device/browser (i.e. be platform agnostic) 

Hitherto St. Mary’s has three main information/document repositories for staff and students as follows: 

  • Intranets i.e. Staffnet (for staff only) and SimmSpace (for students.) – SharePoint is the backend application for this.
  • Collaboration Tools e.g. Shared folders (a.k.a. LAN drives), Sharepoint, OneDrive, Microsoft Teams sites - for departmental document repositories.
  • The external facing St Mary’s Web site (for the general public).

The intranets are not particularly feature rich and don’t foster a St. Mary’s community sharing space, it’s just a one-way information share. The collaborative tools we have do an OK job but do not cater for all needs and so are not fit for St. Mary’s in 2020. 

The intranets are running on an old SharePoint server farm on premise. This is an old version (Sharepoint 2013) and the current support staff in have had no formal Training.  In order to do upgrades we have to use a 3rd party (Pythagoras) which requires additional spend (around 2 days consultancy).  

All intranet content aimed at students can only be accessed via a login, even if the information is non-sensitive relevant to anybody.  This makes it difficult to access, and difficult to find (particularly through external search engines).  This is out of alignment with the expectations of today’s users who only expect to have to log in for services and personal info but do not expect to have to login to access general information.

We have started using SharePoint as the focal point for our customer facing FAQs via Staffnet. However, this has limited search functionality - you can only search keywords and not run keyword extraction against sentences (so “Where can I reset my password” would return 0 results, but “Password” would return more). 

Due to the segregated nature of the three platforms, some data is duplicated or even triplicated across them.  This is an additional administrative burden for staff, adds delays to disseminating information and runs the risk of information getting out of sync on different platforms.

As a result of investigating and trialling the process for migration of our current Sharepoint 2013 infrastructure to the latest, cloud-based version of Sharepoint (Sharepoint Online), it became apparent that this was not a simple process and the configuration and ongoing management of Sharepoint Online would require skills which our in-house teams do not possess.  Furthermore, Sharepoint Online would not overcome the challenges users face with using its file repositories (TeamSites) nor would it provide better collaboration tools.

In parallel, St Mary’s had also begun to use Microsoft Teams. This features a file repository (which is actually Sharepoint Online under the covers) which has a more user-friendly interface. Plus, it has a number of collaborative features including: concurrent document editing, chat, posts, video-calling etc.

Hence, it was decided that this should be adopted as our file repository & collaboration tool, and that we should migrate our Sharepoint TeamSites into MS Teams (if still required).

In recognition that some of the files held in Sharepoint TeamSites are old and no longer required, a centralised migration of TeamSites into MS Teams will not be undertaken. Instead, the departmental owners of those TeamSites are being asked to review their files within them and to only migrate into MS Teams those files which they need to keep (in accordance with St Mary’s document retention policies).

For Staffnet and SIMMSpace, although SharePoint Online could provide a more modern look and feel, it would not solve the issue of information being only accessible with a St Mary’s userID and password.

Following best practice from other universities, it was decided that we would no longer have internal ‘intranets’.  Rather we will place our information on the St Mary’s website, using the Contensis content management system. This will allow our rich university and departmental information to be accessible to the wider public, prospective staff and students, collaborators and sponsors alike.  Only information which need to be restricted to staff or students only will be protected by a userID & password.  In some cases, this will remove the duplication of publishing the same information in three separate places (website, Staffnet & SIMMSpace).

In accordance with St Mary’s goal of self-service and putting departments in charge of and responsible for their own information, each department will be given access to create and update their own web pages within Contensis. 

Similarly to the TeamSites to Teams migration, a centralised migration of pages from Staffnet & SIMMSpace to the website will not be undertaken. Instead, the departmental owners of those pages are being asked to review their pages and migrate them to the website, updating out-of-date content where necessary and removing duplication as they do so.

As a proof of concept, the Helpdesk team migrated their Staffnet & SIMMSpace pages to Contensis. This also provided them with the knowledge and experience required to develop and deliver training and guidance for departments and to support them through their migrations.

Branded as “The Big SharePoint Shakeup” this was communicated to heads of department in December 2020 and a migration schedule has been agreed, with departments migrating between mid-February and the end of July 2021.

Each department was allocated a ‘window’ within this schedule for their migrations in order to (a) work around the natural peaks and troughs of workloads at different times of year and (b) to avoid overloading the Helpdesk with multiple, concurrent requests for training and support. 
Training was scheduled at the start of each window and support provided to departmental editors throughout their window.

Migration was completed as planned, all of the new web pages were published and redirects were put in place to redirect anyone who was using an old bookmark or hyperlink for Staffnet or Simmspace to the new Staff & Students pages of the website as pllaned on 30th July 2021.